Will Washington D.C. Courts Uphold Releases of Liability?

A release of liability is a type of contract by which one party releases another party from liability that may otherwise have been the basis for a Washington, D.C. personal injury case. Releases of liability are sometimes separate forms that must be signed by the participant or their parent, as in the case of school field trips. However, releases of liability are also frequently on the back of tickets to events such as concerts, festivals, museums, or certain pay-to-play activities such as skiing, bungee-jumping, biking, and rafting.

Liability releases are contracts, and are often found to be enforceable by the courts. If enforceable, a release may excuse the negligent conduct of an operator, preventing an injury victim from pursuing a claim for compensation. However, courts carefully review liability releases to ensure that they are valid. A recent case involving a skiing accident illustrates how courts analyze releases of liability.

According to the court’s opinion, a ten-year-old boy was injured while skiing after he slipped and fell on a patch of machine-made snow. The boy was a member of a local ski team, and regularly skied expert terrain. Before the season began, the boy’s father signed a release of liability on behalf of his son. The release purported to waive the boy’s right to sue the ski team or any ski resort for any injuries he sustained, including injuries that were the result of another party’s negligence.

The lower court found in favor of the skier, noting that he was engaged in recreational skiing at the time of his injury and that the release of liability applied only to competitive skiing. However, in so holding, the court rejected the boy’s argument that the release should be unenforceable based on the public policy concern of allowing a parent to waive a child’s right to sue. The ski resort appealed.

On appeal, the court affirmed the lower court’s decision, but used different reasoning. The court was more concerned with the public-policy implications of allowing a parent to waive a child’s right to sue. The court explained that, in general, preinjury releases are enforceable unless the injured party can prove that an exception applies. One exception, the court explained, is that a contract is against sound public policy.

Here, the court concluded that it was against the state’s public policy to allow a parent to waive the right of a minor child to pursue a claim based on injuries to the child. Thus, the court refused to give effect to the release, allowing the boy’s case to proceed towards trial.

Have You Been Injured in a Washing, D.C. Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in any type of accident, contact the experienced Washington, D.C. personal injury lawyers at the law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC. At Lebowitz & Mzhen, we represent injury victims who have been injured in all types of accidents, including Washington, D.C. slip-and-fall accidents, car crashes, and truck collisions. Our aggressive personal injury lawyers understand the nuances of local laws, and put that advanced knowledge behind each of our cases. To learn more, call 410-654-3600 to schedule a free consultation today.

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